The first illustrated African American newspaper: The Indianapolis Freeman

Called “the Harper’s Weekly of the Black Press” by historian Irving Garland Penn, the Freeman was the first illustrated African-American newspaper. It was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1888 by Edward C. Cooper. Subsidized by the Republican Party for some of its existence, the Freeman enjoyed large circulation because of the variety and scope of its news coverage and its attention to black culture.

When its correspondents weren’t covering issues and events of interest to African Americans across the nation, the Freeman focused on the actions of past black figures. Many (including two that follow) were illustrated on the Freeman’s front pages in the late 19th-century. Political cartoons and photographs appeared in later years.

Edward Marshall, a favorite tenor in New York, is featured on the front page of the Freeman, November 30, 1889.

The Hon. John M. Langston, Congressman-elect from the Fourth District of Virginia, is featured on the front page of the Freeman, April 6, 1889.

African American Newspapers, 1827-1998, an America’s Historical Newspapers collection, includes 1,458 issues of the Freeman published between 1888 and 1916. The issues may be browsed by way of the tab “Newspaper Titles,” or searches can be restricted to this influential newspaper by limiting results to the title.

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